Skeptics fail at skepticism once again

There is a new article in the Skeptic Magazine going the rounds among prominent white male skeptics.

It is by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, and called The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies, and is an attempt to take down the field of gender studies by getting a “Sokal-style” hoax article published.

Since many prominent white male skeptics hate the field of gender studies, they are filled with glee by this take-down of the field.

There is just one problem – it is nothing of the sort. One hoax article is not enough to take down a field, especially not if it is accepted by a scam journal, which this one was (after being turned down by a real journal in the field).

For a good take-down of the crappy Skeptic Magazine article, see this excellent blogpost by Ketan Joshi: The engine of irrationality inside the rationalists

Lazy linking

Another round of interesting links from the internet

Should complementary and alternative medicine charities lose their charitable status?

Right now, the Charity Commission is in the middle of a public consultation, asking whether or not organisations that offer complementary and alternative therapies should continue to have charitable status. This review presents an unprecedented opportunity for the public to turn the tide, and to make it clear to the Charity Commission that it is not enough to make a medical claim, but that such claims have to be backed up by reliable evidence.

The Good Thinking Society has raised the problem with organizations based on promoting pseudo-science having charitable status, forcing the Charity Commission to hold a public consultation on the subject. As part of his work for the Good Thinking Society, Michael “Marsh” Marshall (host of Skeptics with a K) has written a great opinion piece in the Guardian explaining the reasons behind the Good Thinking Society’s focus on this.

Note: the public consultation ended on March 19th, but it is still worth reading the piece anyway.

Making Progress Toward Open Data: Reflections on Data Sharing at PLOS ONE

Since its inception, PLOS has encouraged data sharing; our original data policy (2003 – March 2014) required authors to share data upon request after publication. In line with PLOS’ ethos of open science and accelerating scientific progress, and in consultation with members of the wider scientific community, PLOS journals strengthened their data policy in March 2014 to further promote transparency and reproducibility.[1] This move was viewed as controversial by many, particularly for PLOS ONE, the largest and most multidisciplinary journal to ever undertake such a mandate. In this post, we look at our experience so far.

Interesting blogpost by PLOS ONE on their data sharing policy, and what the effect of their policy has been, three years after they implemented it.

The Doomsday Scam

This NY Times Magazine article is from November, 2015, but I have just recently come across it. It is a fascinating look into a hoax-substance red mercury, which is supposed to be highly dangerous, and the people searching for it.

The Eurocrat Who Makes Corporate America Tremble

Vestager’s entire tenure has been laced with an instinctive mistrust of big corporations. She’s driven investigations of, Fiat, Gazprom, Google, McDonald’s, and Starbucks—and she still has two and a half years remaining in her term. Rulings on McDonald’s and Amazon, both under scrutiny for their tax deals with Luxembourg, are imminent. If Vestager levies a multibillion-dollar fine against Google—a distinct possibility because the company is fighting three separate European antitrust cases—she will truly set headlines aflame. Google came under review for allegedly forcing Android phone manufacturers to pre-install its suite of apps, favoring its own comparison-shopping services in its search results, and preventing third-party websites from sourcing ads from its competitors. As with Apple and Amazon, these cases were bequeathed to Vestager by her predecessor, but she’s accelerated them to their finish lines.

Great profile of EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, which focuses not only on her work, but also how the American corporations don’t know how to approach her.

‘The Drug Whisperer’: Drivers arrested while stone cold sober (warning: autoplay video)

Apparently some American police districts teaches cops how to “recognize” signs of drug use. I use scare quotes around recognize, as this news segment clearly shows that they do nothing of the sort. Instead they jail people without a cause.


Podcast recommendation: Skeptics with a K

As part of my series of posts recommending podcasts, the turn has come to recommend Skeptics with a K, a podcast by the Merseyside Skeptic Society. The Merseyside Skeptic Society is of course an important skeptical organization, which is well known for having come up with the 10:23 campaign and for co-organizing the QED conference.

The podcast started out in 2009, and is thus a quite long-running podcast, coming up on its 200th episode (as I am writing this, episode 198 was released two days ago).

The podcast has had 3 hosts from the start, with the current hosts being Mike Hall, Michael “Marsh” Marshall, and Alice Howarth. Mike and Marsh has been hosts from the start, while Alice joined in 2014, taking over from Collin Harris.

The shows style is basically that the three hosts sit together, talk about their daily life, and then talk about a skeptic or science subject that they find relevant for the show. The show is relaxed, often silly, but despite what the hosts (especially Mike) would say, very informative. From the science talk by Alice, over Marsh’s work for the Good Thinking Society, to Mike’s addressing misconceptions and misuse of the placebo concept.

In recent years, it has become easy to be cynical about organized skepticism, but podcasts like Skeptics with a K helps fight that cynicism, showing the good side of organized skepticism, demonstrating that it can make a difference, and that it is not just about people promoting themselves, but it is also about people like the 3 hosts who actively work to promote critical thinking, both through their podcast, and through their work fighting against things like homeopathy.

Note: if you have a problem with swearing, this is probably not the podcast for you.

Also, you probably would want to avoid the Christmas special as the first episode to listen to, as it is a drunk episode, and not very representative of the rest of the podcast.